"Miracle on 34th Street" is a Christmas classic that proves we've been worried about capitalism ruining the holiday magic since at least 1947. Considering how that particular concern is still heavier than the annual snowfall here in the states, it's a film that's just as relevant in 2022 as it was nearly 100 years ago. For those who haven't seen either version in a while (there was a remake in 1994), "Miracle on 34th Street" sees a man who claims to be the real Santa Claus successfully defend his implausible title in a court of law, as well as bring a little holiday hope to a hurting family.
The film is broadly considered to be a must-watch for any household's Christmas schedule and even found itself a snug little spot in the Academy Film Archive, so it's hilariously ironic how close the original "Miracle of 34th Street" came to capsizing under the weight of retail royalty. You heard that right, the very topic "Miracle on 34th Street" tackles could have easily tanked the production before it even hit theaters.
How, I hear you ask? Let's set the scene — The film heavily features Macy's and Gimbles, a pair of department stores that were notoriously competitive during the 1900s. As it turns out, there are some legal land mines to avoid when featuring reality in fiction, especially when that reality involves a feud fueled by profit.
Good Will Is Good Marketing
When it comes to featuring real persons or entities within the confines of a fictional story, it's possible to do so in a way that both services the story and respects any secondary parties. It's also possible for that combination to become slanderous and defamatory, and those actions are both highly illegal, even if they're factually accurate. That's why so many fictitious characters, companies, governments, religions, groups, etc. are allegorical or otherwise representative. Consider how many stories in pop culture feature an evil, or otherwise overbearing, corporation whose primary function is to deliver goods. Are we being subtle enough? Some companies are so strict with their branding that antagonistic characters aren't allowed to be seen using their merchandise.
Now, back to "Miracle on 34th Street," which we've already established as having featured the very real Macy's and the very real (and very bygone) Gimbles. Immediately, the film is on thin ice with what it's allowed to do or say in regard to these department stores. It doesn't help the story revolves around a family disenfranchised with Christmas thanks to an overabundance of capitalist shills. To make matters even more complicated, neither retail company was shown the film until "Miracle on 34th Street" was completely finished. While this meant that the people in charge were able to see a fully polished production, it also meant that if either company was dissatisfied with the end result, then "Miracle on 34th Street" would be set back ages, possibly even scrapped entirely.
The gamble paid off, with higher-ups choosing to view "Miracle on 34th Street" the same way that their fictional counterparts viewed Kris Kringle's (Edmund Gwenn) insistence that certain items and deals are simply better at different stores. Sometimes, a concession here, multiplies dividends there.
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